Hire for "Why" not for "What"

Conventional wisdom dictates that business owners at growing companies should hire people based on functional criteria.  For example:  

  • Your book-keeper not knowledgable enough for the accounting complexities that your business is encountering?  Hire a Controller.
  • Unable to expand the business beyond your personal network?  Hire a hunter salesperson.

My experience as an Executive Search consultant and both empirical research and anecdotal evidence suggests that leading with technical requirements (the “what’) is a mistake.  Instead, hiring managers should focus on passion (the “why”). 

One of the better articulations of this that I have seen is a Ted talk by management guru Simon Sinek who talks about companies who lead “from the inside out”:https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en#t-337590

If only hiring for the “why” were so simple.  Instead, the following three requirements are essential:

  1. Know what you believe in (your and your company’s “why”).  These can be articulated in company’s core values, mission statement, etc. but are primarily lived through the shared experiences of your employees and your interactions with customers / vendors and other stakeholders.
  2. Assess the “why” in each prospective hire.  This is much harder to assess than technical skills.  In order to do so, one must spend quality time with a candidate getting to know him / her: motivators, professional and personal interest, etc.  Also, detailed reference checks can reveal what someone’s “why” has been at prior companies and whether it matched that company’s core values.
  3. Hire for the “why”.  It is not enough to pay lip service.  Companies must apply the “why” principle in real hiring situations.  

Wishing you success in finding your “why” and hiring for it!